• bluebird 76w

    @mirakee hi. Been a while.

    (Haven't yet reread, ignore the mistakes if any for now)

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    "You know, I don't really mind the sugar."
    "Oh, I'm so sorry, I forgot, again, didn't I?"
    "Oh did you?"

    And he chuckled, took a sip and then sat down on the floor. His was a lukewarm cup, held late on account of ill tampered arrivals and traffic. It was a replacement for coffee, just a miracle of how the milk in my fridge ran out every time he was to stop by.

    "It's raining outside, else I'd have been on time."
    "I know."
    His breath smelled of cardamom. There was no mustache to be wiped off, just dried lips, not taken care of, licking themselves over and over again, worsening the flaking skin. His habit of biting his lower lip just after his first sip of tea, seemed to bother me at first, yet then I got used to the fact that he was already trying to compromise his departure every time he decided to share a cup of chai.
    A salted cracker and a small bowl of peanuts was all that I could provide his diabetic self.

    "This is good." He sipped peacefully. There was a faint scream of crickets in the wet grass. A sense of closure, a calm; his eyes closed and his lips smiled. His checkered grey shirt had rolled down sleeves with open buttons on the cuffs and the absence of two from the collar. His wet hair began to curl upon themselves, those lines from his forehead disappeared. His wet socks couldn't hide his curling toes and his dirty jeans had pockets filled with a supposed pack of cigarettes he had been wanting to share with me and probably some mouth freshners for the moments he tried his lady luck. Those wet footsteps led from my room's door to the window pane. The cardamom somehow flavoured the overdue petrichor in a way that it reminded him of his village. "This is good."

    I closed my eyes. I sighed and sipped my chai.

    There was a rush. A rush of voices clubbing together; laughing and shouting, with names overlapping and smiles you could hear. There were peers on my right who wished to drink beer at 14, and satisfied their puberty with fruit beers. Some friends on my left were busy gossiping about a classmate who made out with a senior in the 'Mysterious Caves of Magic'. It sure seemed magical, the idea of convincing the father of my best friend to allow her to get out for a day on a school picnic, where I took the big responsibility of not allowing her to talk to strangers.

    We were standing in front of a menu board. Her stomach was rumbling. There was sweat under our armpits from the compulsion of wearing a coat; whereas there were mobile phones in the armpits of others, from the excuse of being compelled.

    "One plate is for 50. Can you believe that? I'm not carrying that much."
    "It's okay. We can handle this no?"

    With scared school boots we headed on to the cheapest place in the cafeteria and for the first time ever, tried to use the art of flirtation for negotiation. There were huge shoulders and a big mustache behind the counter. If you were tall enough, you could see his stomach being on the risk of catching fire from the proximity to the stove.

    A foot in front of the other, we smiled; hers was a chubby one, with her pretty north eastern eyes glistening in the sun, while mine was intentional, with eyes staring straight into the heart of the vendor.

    "Can you do it for ten? Ten each?"
    "No."
    "What if we say "please"?"
    A sigh. A sigh and a huge skillet was lit. There was no reduction in the amount of noodles, nor in the chillies, nor in the seasonings. There was no reduction in the love he put into our food. And that's when we sat down behind fake plants, on a special table, with huge plates and food that was too much for our bellies. Excited, as if it was an adventure, we laughed, and paid as much as we had promised.

    "A complimentary tea."
    There was this tea, one I've never had before, in a small paper cup, orange in sheen. It smelled of cloves and pepper, with a hint of cinnamon. The cups felt hot to our palms, so we carried our bags and walked in the park, counting the number of times some boys hit an inappropriate dance move. We sat on a porous metallic bench, heavier on her side, and we tried our best not to move much, especially after she did and caused my share of tea to spill on my shoes. I pulled her cheeks and asked her not to repeat it again, but oh well, a kid out for the first time had forgotten to have fun in all this while.

    We saw the sun set until our roll calls were heard.
    Just a moment. I smelled marigold.
    "Let's go."
    Just a moment.

    I closed my eyes. I sighed and sipped my chai.

    There was a clatter in the kitchen. Apparently he had let the cups slide off the counter.

    "Are you sure you don't want me in there?"
    "No, I don't want you in here, K. I can handle this."
    "Doesn't seem like it."

    He emerged with a tray good enough for holding six cups, with mittens on his hands and an apron that smelled of milk. There was a non stick pan on the top of the tray.

    "Ta-daaa. Here's it."
    "What?"
    "What?"
    "You said you were making tea."
    "This is the tea."
    "In a pan"
    "Yeah" his eyes widened and his eyebrows arched, "with straws. I can use some appreciation here. Did you not just hear the cups fall behind my back while I was totally not trying to scoop out the leftover tea leaves floating around?"

    He sat down, took his mittens off, threw away his apron in the laundry basked and began setting his hair off in the opposite direction of their growth. He sat down on the couch and held the pan up to my face.

    "Drink it."
    "I am not mouthing a pan. For some tea. Are you sure I won't die from this?"
    "No."
    "What did you add?"
    "Just some cloves and cardamom,"
    "Hmm"
    "And sugar and pepper."
    "Okay"
    "And I wanted to balance out the extra accidental spoon of sugar with some salt."
    "Some salt?"
    "Yes. And there's some leaves you put in a tea. The one's my mother grows."
    "Basil?"
    "Maybe?"

    He handed me a straw and held one close to his mouth. I counted to three. We sipped and immediately spit back the hot tea through the same straws into the pan.

    A moment of silence for his efforts.

    "So?"
    "The basil really tasted a lot like mint. I don't know how you did that, but it really was exceptional. Stood out for me."

    And then laughter.

    "You really can't make this breakfast in bed for your mother's birthday. Please don't."
    "I won't. Got it. Learnt it. It's all done and settled."
    "Do you want me to make some for you right now?"
    "No. I'm not a tea person. Oh come on, your adorable face makes me want to say yes everytime."

    He sat on the kitchen counter. I put on the saucepan and turned on the gas. There went two and a half cups of water, two teaspoons of tea, an inch of crushed ginger, two teaspoons of sugar, and milk according to the colour. He watched me do it all, and watched it all be done by me. He was watching me. Just me.

    "So you really are beautiful. And the best of everything."
    "Wait for the tea."

    I strained the tea, pressed the tealeaves and discarded them. There were two non matching cups that were filled to exact perfection. I offered one to him and he immediately burnt the tip of his tongue.

    "Why do you do this to yourself?"
    "Well maybe because of this,"
    And he kissed me while I stood there motionless with my eyes closed and a racing heart. I never kissed him back, never known how to kiss.

    I closed my eyes. I sighed and sipped my chai.

    Read More

    ,

    "Miss, are you waiting for someone?"
    The slide of the menu card broke my nostalgia.
    "Oh, oh yes." I said, without looking her in the eyes.

    I pulled down my sleeves and tried to purse my lips. There was a cloth tied around my head. Blue, it was.

    She stared for a moment, as if she had recognised me, and then she smiled the smile that she must've smiled at every other person she had served during her shift. I smiled a smile that hurt my bruise.

    There was the ring of the bells on the door. There it was.
    The shoes. His walk. One foot in front of the other. In a rhythm. It was something about the way he walked, the way he looked at me, the way he talked; it was something about him, something that made him who he is to me.

    I tried to consider getting up and hiding inside the washroom. But you know what they say, kids who are scared of being locked in the toilet, don't hide in the toilets when they're scared; and if they do, then there's something wrong with you.

    There was an attempt to stand up, yet I didn't realise how close I had pulled the table on my side, in the anxiety of being reached out by his hands; and I stood up, my legs did straighten, yet I hit my knee against the table top and the salt & pepper jars fell.

    There it was. His grip on my arm. Over a bruise he gave me.

    "It's okay." He told everyone at the café. "My wife's okay."
    And then he turned to me. With that grim smile on his face, he walked towards his side of the table and fastened his coat's button.
    "Where did you think you were going? I'm right here."

    I sat.
    He sat.
    Silence. A car passed us by.
    "So?"
    "I can't do this."

    "Ma'am, can I get your order?"
    "No thanks, we're trying to..."
    "..yeah. A tea. No milk."
    "And for her?"
    "Apparently 'she can't do this.' So nothing. Thanks."

    "So? What were you saying? What "can't" you do now?"
    "I don't want this marriage."
    "Hmm. And? Anything else?"
    Silence.
    "Nothing. Nothing else. This is what you called me for? This is why I've been searching for you everywhere? This is why you ran away? We could've talked about this at home. This.."

    "Sir, your tea."
    "Thanks."

    He leaned forward. His breath on my skin smelled of liquor; his eyes were calm, like they always were, in every single moment of his anger. And there it was again. His smile.

    "Jasmine, this is exactly what I warned you against the last time your arm got stuck in the doorway. This is what I warned you against, the day your father agreed to hand you over to me. Look at me and tell me what is wrong with being with me when I am the one paying for everything you wish to pursue and when your family is the leech that has been living off on my money?"

    He backed away. The cup on his palm, he sipped. He wasn't as old as I had imagined him to be, probably ten years older than myself. This was the man at every family gathering who offered me a drink since I turned a teenager. Here he was, drinking his tea; his every single gulp visible on his perfectly shaven skin. And there it was: that smile.

    He licked his lips and smacked them in disappointment.
    "The ring."
    I hid my hands under the table in a rush.
    "Where's the ring?" His calmness.
    "I couldn't wear it."
    "I took care of it the last time."
    "You broke my finger," a glance into his eyes, "I can not, wear it. It hurts." My voice broke, almost as if I wanted to cry but there were no tears left anymore.
    "Well then let me do it for you. Give me the ring."
    Silence.
    "Give it, else I'd take it."
    I slid it across the table.
    "Good."

    He looked me straight in the eyes and held my cold hands under the table. No one could see the way he pushed his ring onto my finger and no one could see the way he, and only he, could bring out the tears I always thought to have been dried off. Not screaming is a part of me that he taught me well.

    "Good." He wiped off my tears with his finger and then cleaned his finger with a tissue. He smiled.
    "Take it off again and I'd tell you how to wear it back on.
    Oh don't cry, here, drink something."

    That cold cup of tea felt indifferent against my lips. He held my hand and left the cup in my grip.

    I gulped the cold tea.

    "I'll be home early." He kissed my forehead and left.

    I closed my eyes. I sighed and sipped my chai.

    It was the first time I made tea for my mother. She had always wanted me to learn how to cook and finally, I wanted her to know that yes, I'm old enough to stand close to the fire.

    So I stood on a stool to be able to see the water boiling.

    There was a clumsy effort on measuring the cups of water I put in. My elbows ached from carrying the weight of my head as I waited for ages for the water to come to a boil.

    This was when I realised how my tea always tasted of ginger. So I went down to the lowest rack of the fridge and asked my mother,
    "Mummy, do good girls first ask their mummies before opening the fridge?"
    She laughed and said "Yes."
    "Mummy, can I open the fridge?"
    "Yes."

    I looked for the bag of ginger and finally found it hidden behind the sack of tomatoes. I broke a circular end and hid it in my fist, hoping my mother wouldn't have noticed, right after asking her where exactly she keeps the ginger.

    I went inside the kitchen and cut the ginger into thin slices and then put it in the boiling water. Then there went tea leaves, something I used to love to smell for a minute or saw, right after opening the container. Then went sugar, miscounted. And then went the milk, after a minute or so of boiling.

    And when a skin had formed, I turned off the gas and caught the pan with my bare hands, burning my little fingers, and crying in pain, yet not loud enough. I managed to save the tea.

    I strained the tea, pressed the tealeaves and discarded them. There were three cups, all the same, for me, my brother and my mother.

    I walked towards the room with my wobbly feet; the tea spilled on the sides of the steel plate.

    And there it was. The awaited moment. This was the first sip of my mother, the first sip of the first tea I ever made.

    "It tastes like water. I don't like it. If it's tea, I don't care who made it. If it's bad, I have to say it."

    So I sat down by the window. Sat down and held my cup of tea.

    There was a sense of failure. A sense of hurt.
    Perhaps I was not good enough.
    Perhaps I didn't try hard enough.

    I closed my eyes. I sighed and sipped my chai.

    ©bluebird